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Sweetness and Light

By Oliver Chin

Certain things you can just depend on. The sun rising. The birds singing. And the loyal audience for the manga series Oh My Goddess! Though it may fly under the radar of some of you, OMG has consistently drawn females with a mixture of stellar draftsmanship, sensitive storytelling, and silly sense of humor. Now a new slate of animation is available on DVD, true to the spirit, quality, and tone of the comics. Aided with accessible animated versions, OMG is primed to attract an even larger audience of fans of both genders.

Starting the story back in 1994, Kosuke Fujishima has created almost 100 issues in Japan with more on the drawing board. Stateside, Dark Horse has collected these into 9 graphic novels which constitute a cornerstone in their manga lineup (the latest being Childhood's End, scheduled for March 2002). In deference its steady popularity, Dark Horse also picked OMG to anchor the launch of its Super Manga Blast anthology.

OMG is an atypical recipe of sweetness, seriousness, and the supernatural. Dark Horse's Shawna Erwin-Gore notes that the series "can be both incredibly hilarious and also very touching on an emotional level...This is probably our best all-ages manga and is suitable to the widest audience of readers."

Wishes Do Come True

OMG tells how college freshman Morisato Keiichi is the low man on the totem pole of his college motorcycle club - dateless and hungry. Lucky for him, he calls the wrong take-out number, and gets a home delivery more than he bargained for. The beautiful goddess Belldandy will grant his one wish: she will become his girlfriend forever!

Now kicked out his dorm for fraternizing with the opposite sex, Keiichi starts a new life with Bell...and her two sisters. Her seductive older sister Urd is a surprise visitor, who forcibly instructs the tentative Keiichi in the ways of love, whether he wants to learn or not. Then her younger sister Skuld comes calling to see the man who stole her dear Belldandy from her. With this trio keeping him in line, Keiichi's life will never be the same.

Relationships revolve with slapstick on the center stage. Take for example the recent arc "Hand in Hand" (Part 10, #4). Having graduated from the school motor club, Keichi's friend Chihiro throws a party to open "Whirlwind", her new motorbike store. To spice things up, jealous Chihiro tries to get goody-goddess Belldandy drunk, to prove to Keiichi that his girlfriend isn't perfect. However, the consequences get out of hand. Belldandy proceeds to dispense joy to every person (and animal) she meets who needs a pick-me-up. But as her sister Urd explains to baffled Keichi, the law of "conservation of happiness" dictates that every good turn Belldandy does has to be matched by an equally bad effect on him! As Keichi searches for the ideal solution to sober her up, he realizes the depths of Bell's sincerity, which in turn strengthens his affection for her.

Three Dimensional Goddesses

Bringing these charming characters to another plane are a host of new anime releases. Previously releasing the 1994 OVA series on VHS, AnimEigo has recently reformatted it onto two DVDs (87 Minutes, $24.95 each), whose five episodes cover the origin of the romantic comedy. In addition Pioneer is shipping products under the slightly different title "Ah! My Goddess." The first is the feature length movie (105 minutes, VHS Dub $24.98, bilingual DVD $29.98), created in 2000. Here, a more mature Keiichi must help Belldandy resist her old "mentor" Celestin, a fallen angel who escapes Heavenly confinement to pursue his vision of reshaping the universe. According to Pioneer's Chad Kime, "The movie contains more action than usually seen in the comics and the OVA's without losing any of the charm that made it popular." With animation done by AIC (Tenchi Muyo, BubbleGum Crisis), the DVD includes a sneak preview episode of Pioneer's next OMG series.

What is that? Well it is "The Adventures of the Mini-Goddesses", based upon the graphic novel of the same name by Dark Horse. Releasing every other month from February 2002 onward, four volumes will each contain twelve eight-minute episodes (VHS Dub $24.98, bilingual DVD $29.98). Kime noted that, "The popular goddess characters will be drawn in super-deformed style, each shrunk down to 5 inches tall to experience life on a small scale." If you are familiar with the "pocket arcade" premise of fighting games such as Street Fighter II, you can imagine how miniaturizing OMG characters can provide its quotient of easy laughs.

In general, the animation is unerringly true to Fujishima's crisp style. However, when brought to life on the TV screen, OMG's premise itself may seem quaintly sexist to Westerners who believe the joy of homemaking is an antediluvian notion. Bell's domestic bliss even contrasts with contemporary Japan, where young women (the latest generation of "Parasite singles") increasingly and assertively delay marriage. But aside from this cultural disconnect, the story is pure in intent and execution. Growing in their relationship, the couple appreciates how love is the ultimate force that sustains the universe.

Magic in the Air

Consequently, OMG is a favorite among females, which makes it a rarity in today's comics environment. Can macho readers be sensitive? Will feminists be ranked? Preconceptions aside, here relationships take a front seat, driving the action in a world where magic is not only possible but welcome. Ultimately, characters answer problems by confronting their own insecurities. The result is that they not only grow individually but also strengthen their bonds with others.

Erwin-Gore testified how the story has matured to reward a faithful fans, "There has been a great amount of character development (Skuld's coming-of age, Urd's learning to cope with her demon roots, Keiichi's acceptance of his romantic feelings for Belldandy) with the major characters, so they've definitely changed and evolved as our readers have come to know them."

Concocting an offbeat blend of technical artistry, surprising wackiness, and mysticism, Fujishima unabashedly investigates the never-ending nuances of personal attraction. Like navigating a field seeded with land mines, he could easily misstep into melodrama, maudlin sentiment, or pat stereotypes. Nonetheless, the creator nimbly manages to extract the delicate truths from within romance and friendship, using self-effacing humor and tender care. With new DVDs as great companions, perhaps the comic is right: there are happy endings after all.

Magazines

Comics Buyer's Guide is the USA's longest running magazine about comic books. Every month it features new comic reviews, nostalgic retroviews, interviews and a price guide. Oliver Chin reviews anime, manga, movies, videos, graphic novels, comics, and books.

Comics & Games Retailer provides news to comic and games retailers about practical how-to tips on selling comics and keeping up with industry and market trends. Monthly issues include Oliver Chin's column "Going Global" and other articles that give a national overview of the market.